Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin
Thursday, January 8, 2015, 3:30 PM

French police have converged on a small town to the northeast of Paris in recent hours as part of the ongoing manhunt in search of two brothers, Cherif and Said Kouachi, suspected of being the gunmen who killed 12 people at the French satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo. Reuters reports that two dozen anti-terrorism officers are carrying out house-to-house searches in the village of Corcy, where the brothers were recently spotted wearing ski masks at a service station. 850 members of the French military are currently patrolling the streets of Paris.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced this morning that French police made “several arrests” overnight in the hunt for the two suspects, who were identified after one of the suspects left his identification papers in an abandoned getaway car. A third suspect, Hamyd Mourad, an 18-year-old, turned himself into authorities late on Wednesday, although later news reports have cast doubt over whether he actually played a role in the shootings. France24 has live updates on the manhunt.

McClatchy reports that Cherif Kouachi had previously been convicted in 2008 on terrorism charges for helping send fighters to Iraq’s anti-US insurgency. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison. The New York Times notes that the brothers were long known to French intelligence services, and according to testimony during a 2008 trial, Cherif said he dreamed of attacking Jewish targets in France. Before that, Cherif had been detained in 2005 for attempting to travel to Iraq. In May 2010, Mr. Cherif was arrested again in connection with a plot to free two well-known French-Algerian jihadists.

The Wall Street Journal writes that counterterrorism officials are concerned by the higher level of sophistication and planning evidenced in the assault. US counterterrorism officials who briefed lawmakers on Wednesday indicated that the shooters appeared well-trained and organized. Ed Davis, Boston’s police commissioner during the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, suggested that the assault indicates the attackers had “military training.” However, in the Washington Post, Thomas Gibbons-Neff explains that while the attackers are well-armed and accurate, they cross each other’s path as they advance, a type of movement that military personnel are trained to avoid.

Whether or not they were professionally trained, in Foreign Affairs, Jytte Klausen argues that the attack fits well within the old al Qaeda playbook, one that may give us particular insight about the future of al Qaeda.

World leaders responded to the attack with an outpouring of sympathy and support, but Josh Gerstein notes that President Barack Obama’s defense of free expression following the shooting spree came in “sharp contrast to his more tepid response to previous attacks involving issues of religion and free speech.”

Buzzfeed carries the responses from newspapers all over the world. While the New York Times shares a profile of the men behind the cartoons at Charlie Hebdo. The Washington Post reviews some of Charlie Hebdo’s most controversial content, which largely dealt with Islam. However, the New Republic notes that the publication's most recent target had been Islamophobia, showing that the paper went after all kinds of dogmatic thinking.

Wednesday was the first day in three years with no reported casualties caused by fighting in Syria, as a strong winter storm halted violence in the country. However, Reuters notes that the freezing temperatures have brought new difficulties and dangers for refugees and civilians fleeing the fighting.

Elsewhere, the Islamic State continued its assault in Iraq, launching at least five suicide bomb attacks on Iraqi security forces near Samarra that killed two people and injured 28 others. The bombings were followed by mortar attacks on the city and an assault by gunmen. BBC reports that after several hours of fighting, the militants retreated under fire from Iraqi warplanes.

The New York Times has a long overview of the deteriorating security environment in Yemen as al Qaeda attempts to claw its way back from several devastating blows delivered by Houthi fighters. For the last few weeks, the almost daily attacks have killed dozens of civilians each. The latest killed 38 people who had lined up to apply for positions at the police academy in Sana.

The Washington Post writes that for the seventh successive time, Yemeni authorities failed to produce an American for a scheduled court appearance. The absence of Sharif Mobley, a 30-year-old from New Jersey who has been held in Yemen since January 2010 on suspicion of terrorist connections, deepened the mystery surrounding his fate since he “effectively disappeared in Yemen’s judicial system. Mr. Mobley was never charged with terrorism, but has been charged with murder after allegedly killing a guard during a failed escape attempt.

A pro-Russian group of hackers took responsibility for a cyberattack yesterday that brought down several official German government websites, including that of Chancellor Angela Merkel. The attack came on the same day that Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk arrived in Berlin to sign an agreement for almost $600 million dollars in loan guarantees. Today, Reuters reports that Prime Minister Yatsenyuk accused Russian intelligence of sponsoring the group.

The Ugandan military has confirmed Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army, has turned himself in. The New York Times writes that Uganda’s foreign affairs permanent secretary has said that a Ugandan legal team will work with the International Criminal Court as to whether Mr. Ongwen should be moved to the Hague or be tried in Uganda.

A senior Obama administration official has told the Rolling Stone that the White House will continue to consider Afghanistan an “area of active hostilities,” exempting it from the stricter drone and targeted killing guidelines the president announced in 2013.

The Hill reports that the new House of Representatives has reauthorized the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) by a vote of 416-5. TRIA is a federal program that allows the federal government to repay business costs after a terrorists attack resulting in more than $100 million in losses.

Yesterday, Director James Comey doubled down on the FBI’s assertion that North Korea was behind the assault on Sony Pictures, saying that the hackers who attacked Sony had operated on Internet addresses “exclusively used” by North Korea. The Washington Post has more on Director Comey’s remarks.

Defense News shares that Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), the new Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, is currently in talks with the White House and senior Department of Defense officials leading the fight against ISIS on the wording of a potential Authorization to Use Military Force.

A military judge at Guantanamo Bay has barred female guards from moving five detainees accused in 9/11 case, reports the Associated Press.

Parting Shot: DefenseOne tells us how US special forces are now using Google Maps.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Ben brought us news of three new Lawfare additions: David Kris, Carrie Cordero, and Bruce Schneier.

Wells asked us to help an elementary school find its lost drone. If you seen one in a tree, be sure to let the folks at Chesterbrook Elementary know!

Paul Rosenzweig walked us through the pseudonymous process of buying the Lawfare bitcoin.

Sean Mirski summarized the State Department’s review of China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea.

Michael Knapp wrote on the looming obstacles for states’ proposed “Fourth Amendment Protection” laws.

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